10 Highest-Paying Ph.D. Degrees


Updated November 9, 2023 · 4 Min Read

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A Ph.D. can maximize your career opportunities and earning potential. Explore some of the highest-paying Ph.D. degrees in law, business, and healthcare.

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Earning a Ph.D. requires a significant investment of time and money. A Ph.D. is the terminal degree in many fields and requires 6-12 years of advanced learning and research.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a direct link between educational attainment, earnings, and levels of unemployment. Workers with bachelor's degrees earned a median weekly wage of $1,432 in 2022, compared to $2,083 a week for professionals with doctorates.

Workers with doctorates also enjoyed more job security, with a 1% unemployment rate compared to 2.2% for bachelor's degree holders.

So what exactly is the highest-paying Ph.D. degree? Keep reading to discover which degrees can lead to the highest salaries, and what you need to do to earn the credential.

Ph.D. Degrees for You

These top schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs. Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or Ph.D. programs.

What Are the Highest-Paying Ph.D. Degrees?

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields dominate this ranking of the highest-paying Ph.D.s. Review some of these careers, their educational requirements, and the basic functions of each job.

1. Ph.D. in Physics

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $142,850
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 5%

Physicists study matter and energy to understand how the natural world and universe function. They work at universities, laboratories, and in industrial settings. Their breakthroughs lead to the development of new technologies and devices. Physicists seeking employment in academia and research typically need a Ph.D. Many begin their careers by spending 2-3 years in postdoctoral research positions.

2. Ph.D. in Computer Science

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $136,620
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 23%

Computer scientists develop new technologies and improve existing ones. Employers need their theoretical knowledge and computing skills for practical application in the real world. Computer science subfields include artificial intelligence, programming, and robotics.

Some employers hire computer scientists with bachelor's or master's degrees. Positions in areas such as research may require a Ph.D. and hands-on experience. The BLS projects a 23% employment growth rate for computer scientists through 2032, the highest rate on this list.

Explore these promoted online computer science Ph.D. degree programs.

3. Ph.D. in Astronomy

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $128,330
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 5%

What we know about the world above us is in great part due to the work of astronomers. These scientists study stars, planets, and distant galaxies. Astronomers work for governmental organizations, in research and development, and at postsecondary institutions. A Ph.D. in astronomy is typically required for jobs in research and academia, according to the BLS.

4. Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $126,880
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 6%

Aerospace engineers work in one of two branches. Aeronautical engineers design aircraft and related systems, and astronautical engineers specialize in the inner workings of spacecraft and their performance. The BLS reports that entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field.

Employers may require a Ph.D. for research and advanced technical or supervisory positions. Like many of the highest-paying Ph.D. degrees on this ranking, a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering can earn you well above six figures.

5. Ph.D. in Law

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $135,740
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 8%

While students who want to practice law pursue a juris doctor (JD), aspiring scholars and teachers pivot to a Ph.D. in law. Students in these programs prepare for leadership roles in academia, the business arena, and other fields. Some Ph.D. programs require students to complete a JD before admission, and others require a master of laws or the equivalent. Potential earnings will depend on the job, field, and experience.

Explore these promoted online legal studies Ph.D. degree programs.

6. Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $106,260
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 8%

Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, and engineering to produce chemicals and other materials. They work in fields such as the chemical and oil industries and enjoy growing opportunities in biotechnology and environmental engineering.

While entry-level positions may require just a bachelor's degree, research and other advanced positions typically require a Ph.D. This advanced education can pay off, with the BLS projecting 8% job growth from 2022-2032 and a median six-figure salary for chemical engineers.

7. Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $104,610
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 5%

Electrical engineers design, develop, and maintain electrical systems and equipment. Many electrical engineers specialize in a certain area, such as signal processing or power engineering. A world filled with electronic devices would not be possible without the electrical engineers who specialize in electronics.

As is the case with other areas in engineering, research and advanced positions usually require a master's or Ph.D. Electrical engineers can expect to earn well above the average annual salary across all occupations.

8. Ph.D. in Economics

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $113,940
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 6%

We turn to economists to help guide governmental monetary and fiscal policy and explain the consequences to the public. They also research markets, economies, and trends to help businesses remain competitive and maximize profits. A master's is the minimum entry-level requirement for this career. Advanced positions in research and at governmental and international organizations will likely require a Ph.D. and work experience.

9. Ph.D. in Biochemistry

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $103,810
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 7%

Biochemists study chemical components and biological processes within living things. They might work in fields like pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. A Ph.D. is typically required for research and development positions. Some biochemistry Ph.D. holders begin their careers in postdoctoral research positions. The need for new drugs and procedures to address aging and diseases will likely help spur the demand for biochemists.

10. Ph.D. in Educational Leadership

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2022): $99,940
  • Job Outlook (2022-2032): 4%

Educational leaders play a critical role as administrators overseeing various functions at postsecondary institutions. Their positions may include management of student affairs or academic programming. They may also work as researchers or in positions like principal or superintendent of a school district.

A master's degree is usually the minimum requirement for these roles, and many professionals hold Ph.D.s in educational leadership or the equivalent.

Explore these promoted online educational leadership Ph.D. degree programs.

Frequently Asked Questions About High-Paying Ph.D. Degrees

What's the difference between a Ph.D. and a doctorate?

Doctoral degrees include Ph.D.s and other doctorates such as a doctor of education (Ed.D.). If you're looking for a terminal degree geared toward professional practice, then a doctorate such as an Ed.D. provides advanced training and leadership skills. A Ph.D. involves more focus on theory, philosophical ideas, and research, and is expected of researchers and college faculty.

How long does it take to earn a Ph.D. degree?

It takes between 6-12 years to earn a doctoral degree. Doctorates in science and engineering (SE) fields often take less time to complete than doctorates in non-SE fields, per the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

Can you earn your Ph.D. online?

Yes, but it depends on the program. Ph.D. programs in fields such as STEM require a lot of time on campus for research and dissertation preparation. You might be able to find more fully or mostly online Ph.D. programs in fields like education. Some universities may offer hybrid Ph.D. programs with online and in-person components.

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